Men's rings are upping the design ante and making traditional wedding bands a thing of the past. There's never been more choice when it comes to putting a ring on it.
Award-winning Sydney jeweller Nadia Neuman, of Mondial by Nadia Neuman, is pushing boundaries with her wedding jewellery for men, with profits from her Marriage Equality ring directed to making same-sex unions a reality in Australia.
While it's the first time a local luxury jewellery brand has actively promoted the issue, the commercial potential in the gay wedding market is undeniable. "Gay men are driving a change in what men are open to," says Neuman. "There is an increased demand for the new and exciting."
Neuman employs an array of unusual materials and techniques that impart her rings with a contemporary and masculine appeal. These include rare metals such as tungsten, mokume-gane or black ceramic, and finishes such as sandblasting, hammering and hand-carving.
Sometimes Neuman chooses a material for its inherent weight and sturdiness – the hard-wearing properties of tantalum, for example, a metal which is rarer than platinum, and usually seen in missiles and surgical implements.
Without realising it, men are drawn to the same styles worn by their father or grandfather.Nadia Neuman
Once reserved for samurai swords, mokume-gane or 'wood eye metal' is a Japanese technique from the 17th century that involves rolling or layering different golds or metal alloys together. The metal is then carved to create a surface with a patterned finish, like a wood grain. The tough exterior of this mix-metal result is a drawcard, coupled with the fact that no two mokume-gane creations are the same.
Romancing the stone
More men are asking for stones in their wedding rings, including rough diamond octahedra, black sapphire and cognac diamonds. Even white diamonds are generating interest, though the stones aren't centre stage like the sizeable solitaires of women's rings, with the preference for more subtle accents or secret gemstones.
"They're a little nervous about being flashy, although some of them really like stones," says Neuman. "They haven't embraced the whole 'wearing of stones' and 'showing off' thing, but it feels like the start of the change. And the shift of men indulging in wedding rings will inspire the appreciation of other pieces such as cufflinks and tie pins."
Neuman is a fan of black sapphires, while some other jewellery brands are using black diamonds in men's rings. A monochrome palette makes sense but there's no choice for her: "When you have a precious stone like a magnificent black sapphire in the perfect gent's ring, it allows for a personal touch with a little sparkle. Black diamonds are lower quality diamonds and they're enhanced, with a risk of cracking. But black sapphires are natural and resilient, and, they're Australian."
The shape of things to come
Pearls are also being considered for men's rings, after recent appearances on leather cords or bracelets.
Justin Linney, creative director of Linneys, says men are definitely more inclined to wear pearls these days. "With men's jewellery, the design is more important than the pearl so it's never an overpowering statement pearl, [it's] a gem with a unique lustre and colour that enhances a design."
Tahitian pearls, with their range of darker hues, are among Linneys' pearl suggestions for male customers, but men are confidently exploring lighter pearls too:
"We are noticing a trend towards using the Australian South Sea pearls. The Australian pearls are white but you do find them with a silver undertone which makes them more masculine and suits 18 carat white gold jewellery."
The top trends
Guy Bedarida is the creative director of Bali-based brand John Hardy, which is known for its natural inspirations. "Figurative pieces, like our signature Naga, are distinctly John Hardy," he says. "Recently, we introduced the Eagle motif to our collection – a powerful symbol of freedom and independence. Another trend at the moment is the signet ring and it is a masculine statement piece."
Nadia Neuman is receiving unprecedented requests for men's 18 carat rose gold personalised signet rings. These can be hand-carved with a couple's or partner's initials, insignia, family crests or set with gemstones. "It is a style reminiscent of times gone by," says Neuman. "Without realising it, men are drawn to the same styles worn by their father or grandfather."
Signet rings in centuries past indicated a man's aristocratic station, power and poise; now they have been re-imagined to literally seal the most personal of ties.
In the 19th century, cameos, intaglios and coat-of-arms dominated signets and the most popular stones were ruby, amethyst, garnet, chrysoprase, bloodstone, cornelian, chalcedony and lapis lazuli. Today, in John Hardy's Palu signet ring the centre piece is hammered bronze.
Rose gold rising
The most popular men's ring by Mondial by Nadia Neuman is a rose gold square design that recalls a castle and can be made in a wide version of 15mm.
The colour of rose gold can span orange-yellow to red-orange too, and provides a retro feel that can complement a vintage watch. The crimson tinge recalls the jewellery of World War II and the Victorian era but is lesser-known for its modern restraint – there is little risk of the 'bling-effect' of more reflective white or yellow gold.
It's a perfect option for the shy and retiring betrothed, in a time when the tenets of marriage are being so universally debated.